Will Advertising Be Reduced To Pimping Parity Products?

Now, more so than ever, an interweb company with a compelling product or service, need not advertise. Or so says Bruce Sterling in Wired:

It’s good to see Internet entrepreneurs grinning again. Web 2.0 makes them happy in several ways that its bubble-era forebear did not. Here’s a critical one: The new breed of online business has no need to advertise. Have you ever seen an ad for Skype? Any kind of pitch, anywhere? Yo, Skype don’t hype!
Web 2.0 outfits like Skype, Wikipedia, Flickr, and del.icio.us don’t need to promote themselves because, unlike their Web 1.0 counterparts, they connect people directly to engage in meaningful activities.

What about offline products and services? Do they need advertising? I think the same principal is at work. When you have a product or service with no equals, there’s no need to create desire. For instance, Herman Miller chairs need no advertising. They advertise themselves.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. theo kie says:

    I have to take a bit of exception on this one, David. True, build a unique enough product and you might not need to create that desire. But you will need to create awareness, and do so in such a broad way that you can become a viable, profit-producing player in the market.
    I realize this is merely a focus group of one (me), but let’s talk about Skype. I’ve never heard of it. And it’s not like I’m never burrowing around online. Vonage, sure. But Skype? (Who?) To compete in long distance, they’ll need serious brand awareness. (Also, from what I see on their website, the big draw is “no fees” until the end of the year. What happens when they have to charge like a real, long-term, profit-producing company?)
    Herman Miller chairs? They’ve invested millions of dollars in advertising and marketing over decades in order to get the brand where it is today If they were a startup with no history, would they get the attention they do today? Very likely not. So how would they gain awareness? Could they wait long enough to let buzz do the work and still be profitable?
    I’m not arguing it’s impossible to make it without advertising. But it will be a very rare product that is so completely unique online “buzz” will drive enough awareness to compete with traditional “hard goods” products. It’s a far different world than marketing entirely free services like Flickr and Wikipedia.

  2. Theo,
    I agree with some of what you say here. But let me point out a few things.
    Skype is big stuff. So big, eBay paid 4.1 billion dollars to acquire them (a rate of $20 mil per Skype employee).
    Flickr has a free version, but I pay an annual fee for my account, as do most others.
    I’m aware that Herman Miller does advertise, but that’s not what creates desire. The fact that one’s boss sits in one is what creates desire. We might call it word-of-butt.

  3. Advertising and promotions will never go away. There will always be the need to develop brands and make them top of mind through repeated exposure. I think products like Skype and other web-based companies have an easier time not utilizing marketing because of the nature and place of their existence. If we’re talking physical products, it’s a whole different story. With the commoditization of technology and more parity in product offerings than ever, product design or “industrial design” is becoming a much more important factor in the product/brand mix.
    Disclosure: I do work for an industrial design firm, so my opinion may be slightly skewed, but I do think the business world is just starting to open its eyes to this reality. Advertising, event marketing, and other marketing promotions will continue to co-exist with design and innovation, but the latter are only beginning to gain a bigger share of the pie in a trend that seems likely to continue if American brands are going to gain an advantage over Asian manufacturers that continue producing and selling the same products at lower costs.

  4. Here’s the biggest flaw in the argument that the need for advertising is reducing to the point of zero advertising for great ideas:
    Not everyone is a Skype.
    Not everyone is a flickr.
    Not everyone is a delicious.
    Yet, Skype, flickr, delicious ALL are part of a market that is huge. A market that can accomodate many players. I totally agree with you: every entrepreneur should be aware of the history behind these companies that made it big with little marketing efforts.
    But the ground reality for most entrepreneurs will be having a great product and some intelligent marketing. Flickr/Delicious/Skype are great case studies but also exceptions to the overwhelming reality.
    Oh, and how do we JUST KNOW that flickr/delicious/skype did not do anything for marketing? Perhaps they did? Once you make it big and into history books, it’s easy to forget those little dollars you pushed here and there trying to pimp your site.